February 15, 2019

The Dream of Innocent III


On the following day, therefore, the man of God was presented by that cardinal to the pope, to whom he revealed his entire holy proposal. The pope, a man of extraordinary discernment, in due fashion assented to Francis's request, and encouraged him and his brothers in many ways. He blessed them saying: "Go with the Lord, brothers, and as He will see fit to inspire you, preach penance to everyone. When almighty God increases you in number and grace, come back to us. We will grant you more, and entrust you with a greater charge."

Before the saint left his presence, the Lord Pope wanted to know whether what had been, and what would be conceded, was according to the Lord's will. And so, he said to him and his companions: "My dear young sons, your life seems to Us exceptionally hard and severe. While We believe there can be no question about your living it because of your great zeal, We must take into consideration those who will come after you lest this way of life seem too burdensome."

The pope saw that their constancy of faith and the anchor of their hope were so firmly grounded in Christ, that they did not want to be shaken from their enthusiasm. So he said to blessed Francis: "My son, go and pray that God will reveal to you whether what you ask proceeds from His will. In this way, knowing the Lord's will, We may accede to your desires."

Once God's saint had prayed, as the Lord Pope suggested, the Lord spoke figuratively to him in spirit: "There was a little, poor and beautiful woman in a desert, whose beauty fascinated a great king. He wanted to take her as his wife, because he thought that, from her, he would have handsome sons. After the marriage was celebrated and consummated, there were many sons born and raised. Their mother spoke to them in this way: ‘My sons, do not be ashamed, for you are sons of the king. Therefore, go to his court and he will provide for all your needs.' When they went to see the king, he was struck by their good looks, and noticing a resemblance to himself in them, he asked them: ‘Whose sons are you?' When they answered that they were the sons of the little poor woman living in the desert, the king embraced them with great joy. ‘Do not be afraid,' he said, ‘for you are my sons. If strangers are fed at my table, how much more will you, who are my lawful sons.' He then ordered the woman to send to his court all of the children she had borne to be fed."

When these things had been shown to blessed Francis while he was praying, the man of God understood that the poor woman signified him.

After he completed his prayer, he presented himself to the Supreme Pontiff and narrated point-by-point the story that the Lord had revealed to him. "My lord," he said, "I am that little poor woman whom the loving Lord, in His mercy, has adorned, and through whom He has been pleased to give birth to legitimate sons. The King of kings had told me that He will nourish all the sons born to me, because, if He feeds strangers, He must provide for His own. For if God gives temporal goods to sinful men out of love for providing for His children, how much more will He give to Gospel men who deserve these things out of merit."

On hearing this, the pope was greatly amazed, especially since, before blessed Francis's arrival, he had seen in a vision the church of Saint John Lateran threatening to collapse, and a religious, small and of shabby appearance, supporting it on his own shoulders. When he awoke, stunned and shaken, as a discerning and wise man, he pondered what this vision meant to tell him. A few days later, blessed Francis came to him, made known his proposal, as we have said, and asked him to confirm the rule he had written in simple words, using the words of the holy Gospel, for whose perfection he fully longed. As he was reflecting on how enthusiastic blessed Francis was in God's service, and comparing his vision with that shown to the man of God, he began to say to himself: "This is indeed that holy and religious man through whom the church of God will be sustained and supported."

So he embraced him and approved the rule he had written. He also gave him and his brothers permission to preach penance everywhere, with the stipulation that the brothers who preach obtain permission from blessed Francis. Afterwards he approved this in a consistory.

Legend of the Three Companions 49-51 (Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, vol. 2, 96-98.)

December 30, 2018

The Holy Family

Holy Family, C

The good news of Christmas continues to unfold; the mystery of the incarnation continues to reveal itself. Today we are given to contemplate Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, as a member of a family – the Holy Family – together with Mary and Joseph.

And we see that Jesus as a child in the Holy Family is part of the mystery of the incarnation. When we say that the Word of God assumed our human nature, this includes being a member of family, for it is part of our human nature to be members of a family, to be children of parents, parents of children, brothers and sisters. And given that the mystery of the incarnation in Jesus Christ not only reveals God but also our human nature as God sees it – and things only really exist in the way God sees them – perhaps this revelation of the Holy Family is important for us in our time, in which we see how forgetfulness of God quickly leads to much confusion – and the suffering that follows – about the nature and purpose of the family.

There is another level of revelation going on today as well. Here in lectionary year C we have the striking scene of the Finding of the Boy Jesus in the Temple. And Jesus delivers his first words recorded by the canonical gospels,

“Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”

That’s divine revelation. The unseen God of Israel, of whom no image or idol could be made, and of whom the only name known was the mysterious, puzzling, divine name revealed to Moses, is revealed as the Father of Jesus Christ.

One of my scripture professors, Fr. Stanley Marrow, SJ (may he rest in peace), was a person who didn’t fit neatly into the usual categories. That said, he probably would have felt more at home on the liberal side of things. But one traditional matter on which he would not compromise in any way was God the Father, which he regarded, and rightly so I think, as a matter of revelation. So if at the school liturgy we were supposed to pray to ‘Our Mother-Father’ or ‘God our Parent’ or some such thing, he would walk out, or not show up in the first place. For him, the revelation of God as Father of Jesus Christ was at the heart of the good news of the gospel.

That God is his Father is one of the first things explicitly revealed by Jesus. And if we move ahead in the tradition of the gospels to the moment when the disciples ask Jesus to teach them to pray (itself a very good prayer, and one that we also can make) what does Jesus say? He tells the disciples to address God as Father, just as we continue to do today when we pray the Our Father.

In this we see the mission of Jesus Christ to share the fatherhood of God with us, to make us participants in his relationship to God the Father, to bring about our rebirth as sons and daughters in the Son of God.

Thus, we see the holy family of the faithful taking shape; we have become daughters and sons in the sonship of Jesus Christ, so that on the final day of this Christmas season, the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, we baptized might hear those words of the Father,

 "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” addressed also to us.

And as Jesus makes us sharers in his being the Son of the Father, so he also gives us a mother – two mothers in fact. From the Cross he gives us Mary to be our mother, and by the gift of the Holy Spirit he gives us our mother the Church. And these two motherhoods are not entirely distinct; St. Francis of Assisi called Our Blessed Mother the Virgo ecclesia facta – the Virgin made church. And as Blessed Isaac of Stella puts it, what is said in particular way of Mary is also understood in a general way of the Church; just as through the Holy Spirit Mary becomes the mother of Jesus, so in the same way and by the same Spirit the Church becomes the mother of each individual Christian.

Also in this sense, our virgin mother the Church and we as her individual members extend Mary’s vocation through history, for we are called to continue to do spiritually what she did historically: to receive the Word of God with faith, to nourish it within, bear it out into the world, marvel at the wonders it works, grieve as it is abused and murdered, and rejoice to see it rise again.

And so, brothers and sisters, children of God our Father in his only-begotten Son Jesus Christ and entrusted to the wise and tender care of our mother the Church, let us rejoice today in this feast of our blessed life as the Holy Family.

August 31, 2018

Blog Note

I have just noted that some comments were not published in a timely manner because of something to do with Blogger's settings. I think it's all set now.

August 1, 2018

The Story of the Portiuncula

(From Assisi Compilation 56)
Seeing that the Lord willed to increase the number of brothers, blessed Francis told them: "My dearest brothers and sons, I see that the Lord wants us to increase. Therefore, it seems good and religious to me to obtain from the bishop, or the canons of San Rufino, or from the abbot of the monastery of Saint Benedict, some small and poor little church where the brothers can say their Hours and only have next to it a small and poor little house built of mud and branches where they can sleep and care for their needs.

July 7, 2018

Blessing My Friends at St. Peter's

Recently I enjoyed a visit from an old college friend and his wife, whom I had not met before. A particular and blessed dimension of the visit was that this friend from the time of my entrance into the Roman Catholic Church had himself converted to Eastern Orthodoxy this past Easter.

Religion and the faith didn't come up much during the visit; it was a short one in any case and maybe neither of us were sure how to talk about it with one another.

But there was one religious moment that has stayed with me.

On one of the days I went with them to see St. Peter's Basilica. We stood in the line and chatted. After passing through security and navigating the crowds marveling at and taking pictures of the Swiss Guards at the Bronze Door, we entered the Basilica.

Upon entering I did what I always do, as if by instinct: without regard to anyone's picture-taking or the explanations of guides I went straight to the holy water stoup under (I'm pretty sure) St. Teresa of Ávila, which is on your right as you go into the Basilica. It's what you do when you enter a church. You get some holy water and make the Sign of the Cross, como Dios manda.

When I turned around I saw that my friends had followed me up to the spot in front of the stoup. They asked me to bless them. So I got some more holy water on the ends of my fingers, sprinkled them with it, and blessed them with the Sign of the Cross and in the name of the Trinity.

In the craziness of St. Peter's in the middle of the day--I'm usually there before eight in the morning, when it's quiet and prayerful--and also probably distracted by hospitality and the thought of some business I had in the sacristy and whether I could get it done, I didn't think much of this little religious moment at the time. But as I say, it stayed with me.

There I was in this most recent church built over the tomb of St. Peter, the location for which is said to have been chosen by proximity to his martyrdom. This is St. Peter, on whose confession of faith the Lord builds his Church as the universal Sacrament of salvation, the sacrament by which the remission of sins accomplished by the Sacrifice of his Passion and death and the grace of the new creation inaugurated in his Resurrection come to us. And by the Sacraments of this same Church I have become first a vessel of these mysteries and then a minister of them, such that this explosion of grace through time and space, from that moment between Jesus Christ and St. Peter down through history, has come all the way to me, such that when I bless my friends, even in the chaos of St. Peter's in the middle of the day and the (much worse) chaos of my own mind, there arrives in my friends, in their identity as new creations by baptism, by means of my particular sharing in the priesthood of Jesus Christ, the blessing of God.

May 31, 2018

The Visitation and Charity

Today's feast, the Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth as it appears in St. Luke, and the in utero encounter of Jesus and John, brings back for me one of my earliest catholic sense-memories. It was right around the time when I decided that my search for a spiritual home was coming to a conclusion; I would become a catechumen and seek baptism in the Catholic Church. It was around Advent 1991.

May 28, 2018

Gaudete et exsultate: The Examination of Conscience

May the Lord set the Church free from these new forms of gnosticism and pelagianism that weigh her down and block her progress along the path to holiness! These aberrations take various shapes, according to the temperament and character of each person. So I encourage everyone to reflect and discern before God whether they may be present in their lives. (62)
In obedience to the Holy Father, I have tried to make this examination of conscience that he encourages. And I admit that I feel rather stuck at least with regard to how I guess it is supposed to apply to me.

(Just as a caveat I want to say that in my opinion the terms pelagianism and gnosticism are used rather loosely in the document. But that would be another post.)

Of the dangers presented under "new pelagians," the one that I suppose would apply to me is "a punctilious concern for the Church’s liturgy." (57)